Older Adolescents' Positive Attitudes toward Younger Adolescents as Sexual Partners

Article excerpt

During the last decade in Norway, the mean age at sexual initiation has dropped one year for females (to 16.7 years) and 6 months for males (to 18 years), and the number of early initiators has risen (Pedersen & Samuelsen, 2003). A wide array of studies describe the characteristics of adolescents with early sexual initiation. Early onset of sexual intercourse has been found to be associated with increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, a high number of sexual patterns, and unwanted pregnancies and abortions (Hayes, 1987; O'Donnell, O'Donnell, & Stueve, 2001; Zabin, Kantner, & Zelnik, 1979), having experienced sexual abuse (Edgardh, 2000), having used drugs and marijuana (Fergusson, Horwood, & Lynskey, 1994; Lanctot & Smith, 2001; Orr, Beiter, & Ingersoll, 1971), early alcohol or smoking initiation (Andersson-Ellstrom, Forssman, & Milsom, 1996; Tyden, 1996), delinquency (Orr et al., 1991) and eating disorders (Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela, Rissa nen, & Rantanen, 2001). An early onset of noncoital sexual interaction has also been shown to be related to antisocial behavior and substance abuse (Jakobsen, Rise, Aas, & Anderssen, 1997).

Research on early sexual initiation has also shown that having an older boyfriend or girlfriend and peer norms about sexual behavior are strongly associated with sexual experience in young adolescents (Kinsman, Romer, & Schwarz, 1998; Marin, Coyle, Gomez, Carvajal, & Kirby, 2000). In particular, females with an early sexual debut more often have partners considerably older than themselves (Edgardh, 2000; Leitenberg & Saltzman, 2000). Having much older male partners has been shown to be associated with a higher degree of problem behaviors in females who have had their first intercourse very early or early in adolescence (Leitenberg & Saltzman, 2000). The same trend is evidenced with respect to American teenage pregnancies: Men who have finished their schooling father two-thirds of the infants born to school-age mothers and are on the average 4.2 years older than the senior high mothers and 6.8 years older than the junior high mothers (Males & Chew, 1996). Thus, these studies converge in identifying late adolescent or young adult males as sexual partners for early adolescent females as being potentially detrimental to some females at this age.

Research on early sexual intercourse often focuses primarily on the characteristics of the early debut adolescents and on the negative consequences of their sexual debut. As a consequence, much prevention aimed at postponing sexual initiation targets young girls and tends to focus on individualized explanations of sexuality and engagement in risky sexual behavior, while the much older partners tend to be invisible or not perceived as relevant. However, the extensive involvement of young adult males in both school-age motherhood and its precursors represents a significant factor deserving greater attention and discussion (Males & Chew, 1996). Preventive efforts aimed at protecting pre-pubertal or pubertal adolescents from negative consequences of an early sexual debut should also address the sexual attitudes and willingness of older adolescents to have sex with their much younger peers.

Norms concerning sexual behavior among young people is institutionalized through the age of legal consent, but may vary in different segments of the youth population independently of this judicial demarcation. A hypothesis of a high prevalence of positive attitudes toward engaging in sexual relationships with very young adolescents follows the factual lowering of the age of sexual initiation. In general, only a small proportion of American adolescents regard first intercourse as being appropriate behavior for young adolescents between 12 and 14 years (Rosenthal & Smith, 1997). Nevertheless, the presence of erotic fantasies about younger adolescents, or the will to seize the opportunity to have sex with a younger adolescent may be widespread among older adolescents. …